US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Pope Francis' "Gang of Eight": Better than the Senate version?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Anyone following the U.S. immigration debate will by now be familiar with the "gang of eight" Senators, four from each party, now trying to hash out a "bipartisan" solution for the 11 or so million Americans living and working without documentation in this country. The Senate gathering is supposed to be an exercise in the art of compromise--so is there any connection between that Senate gathering and the eight cardinals Pope Francis has tasked with proposing reforms to the Roman curia?

The task Papa Bergoglio has set for his "gang of eight," each more or less representing the different continents (though there is notably no representative from the Eastern Catholic churches) is to review Pope John Paul II Pastor Bonus, the law that governs the work of the Roman Curia both within itself and in relation to the work of the world's local churches and local bishops. The move reflects the desire of the General Congregation (the cardinals who met before the conclave) to have the new pope reform the Curia--though to what end we have to wait and see.

I wonder if there isn't a bit of the "two-party" system at work in the eight cardinals the pope has chosen: Some will be familiar to English-speaking Catholics. Sean O'Malley from Boston is no doubt a theological conservative but also flexible with good credentials on responding to clerical sexual abuse, while George Pell of Australia is (IMHO) far more ideologically rigid. Cardinal Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras is well-loved by the "social justice" party in the church. Of the rest, none is really an internationally known name, save perhaps Cardinal Gracias of Mumbai. Europe is represented by the president of the Vatican city-state, while Cardinal Marx of Munich (not Schonborn of Vienna) represents the German-speakers. To put it bluntly, there are no "rock stars" among the eight--no Tim Dolans of any country--and no papabile from the previous papal election (setting aside the journalistic fantasies of The New York Times and Boston Globe about their hometown hierarchs).

The apparently dry legal task before the group is not likely to produce any headline-grabbing reforms--but they may lay the groundwork for re-empowering local bishops and conferences of bishops disempowerd (if not disemboweled) by the centralizing papacy of Pope John Paul II. If Francis is signalling anything, it's that he intends to make some changes--let us hope it is more than the customary rearrangement of deck chairs.